Monday, August 3, 2015

A Primer on the Arguments For and Against Closing Hoover


The Facilities Master Plan calls for City High to have 2 waves of expansions. The first wave is currently under way and it will add a 6 classroom expansion to the 3rd floor. Six classrooms is the equivalent of about 150 in added capacity. The second wave of the expansion will, if the general obligation bond passes, include another 6 classrooms, cafeteria expansion, library upgrades and expansions, and rebuilding of parking and athletic courts and fields if they are displaced by the new classrooms. City High’s total capacity will be about 1590 students after both waves.
Liberty High School will start with a capacity of 1000 students, and if the general obligation bond passes, it will have all its extracurriculars completed and a 500 student addition so that it will be a comprehensive high school with a total capacity of 1500 students.

West High will be updated, but will not be expanded. It has a current capacity of about 1680.

Hoover presently is scheduled to no longer have an attendance area starting in 2019. Hoover students will be redistricted to other schools, teachers and staff reassigned, and the building will be demolished to provide space, most likely, for the displaced parking, athletic courts, and fields.

New Hoover is scheduled to be completed in 2017 under current RPS funds but it won’t open as a stand alone attendance area until 2019. Longfellow, Mann, and Lincoln will use that building as they receive their renovations in 2017 and 2018 respectively.

Describing the Argument for Closing Hoover:

There are two key points in the argument for closing Hoover (I am summarizing largely from my knowledge of the situation, Superintendent Murley’s discussions with the Hoover community two years ago, and e-discussions with Jeff McGinness and Eric Johnson):

1. The district should strive, within reason, to have its three comprehensive high schools to have the same opportunities for all students. Having a greater number of students is correlated with increased offerings (more AP classes, more elective, etc.) and fewer classes that are outside of the “aspirational class size goals”. It would be a significant problem if City High had significantly less capacity than any other high school in the district, as it presently does. The second wave expansion addresses this problem, but the expansion will likely be built over the existing tennis courts, some parking, and/or the softball field. The three comprehensive high schools would have fewer differences between them if instead of moving those displaced facilities off-site to Mercer (or some other off-site location), they were built on the plot of land Hoover currently operates.

2. (a) The district is in the midst of a significant budget crunch because of increasing costs that exceed the amount of state-supplemental aid. The state isn’t giving enough money to sustain current educational practices. Although Hoover is not terrible in terms of its annual operational expenses, it will save a significant amount of money if it is closed. It would most likely save the cost of a principal, building secretary, media secretary, teacher-librarian, guidance counselor, custodian costs, and utilities/maintenance. The district averages for each of those costs will be approximately $650K next year. The actual costs for Hoover have not be distributed to the public, but the administration insists that the averages are sufficiently accurate with respect to Hoover.

(b) Because of recent budget problems mentioned above, the administration believes that opening three new elementary schools (Alexander, New Hoover, and Grant) without closing any will detrimentally impact the annual budget. As a result, the administration would likely recommend either closing another elementary school or stopping construction on another one. Under such a scenario, New Hoover very well might not be opened. Then the administration and board would have to reevaluate how the FMP could be completed given that the New Hoover building was crucial for upgrades at Lincoln, Longfellow, and Mann.

These two reasons are the drivers behind the decision to close Hoover, although occasionally other minor arguments are presented. This “perfect storm” of circumstances is thought to justify the closure of Hoover.

Rhetorically and politically, the first reason is presented as paramount. It is the reason the close-Hoover-plan was initially adopted as opposed to a plan that had fewer annual operational costs but that kept Hoover open. The reason that other plan was able to have fewer annual operational costs, however, was because Liberty High School would have been, in that plan, built to a capacity of 1200 students.

The operational cost argument, however, is the one that is harder to satisfactorily address for advocates of keeping Hoover open.

The Opposition to Hoover’s Closure:

1. Response to the Equity Argument:

(a) Doing the renovations at City High specified in the Facilities Master Plan (FMP) are not necessarily antithetical to keeping Hoover open. There is plenty of evidence of this ranging from the original plan that kept both of them open to the third plan presented in the last round of FMP updates where the Hoover structure remained as a pre-K campus, and the City expansions took place by trying to make an arrangement with IC for the use of parks that are close by City High (at least one as close at 200 meters, and the furthest would be Mercer--which is within that “safe walking distance” that Hoover elementary kids are expected to walk to the other schools).

(b) We know that City’s final overall capacity at the end of the FMP is actually less than the current student population at the school. The opening of Liberty and the redistricting will substantially relieve the current overcrowding and cramping.

(c)  We know that the first expansion of City High will have no impact on the current footprint of the campus. It is going up, not out. The second expansion will expand that footprint, but we don’t have a concrete idea of what that will be. From prior discussion with school administrators and Hoover parents, it was pretty clear that the thought was that the six classroom expansion would probably be around where the present tennis courts are. Thus, it was thought that it would displace tennis courts, perhaps some parking, and perhaps the softball field. Those who maintain keeping Hoover open have two options that they could feasible propose for City and keeping Hoover open:
(i) City could have close, off-site tennis courts and softball fields (perhaps just softball?). They could, for example, be at Mercer. Approximately half of the softball season is played during the summer, so having it off-site poses fewer problems with respect to access that other athletic venues would have.
(ii) City could forgo its second classroom expansion. In which case, it would have a total capacity of 1440. That is 60 students fewer capacity that what Liberty will eventually be, but it is less than the current proposed difference between City High and Liberty (with City High having greater capacity).
(iii) It may be possible to complete the expansion with very little displacement at City High. If so, the Hoover community would be furious if it turned out that most of the Hoover land was mostly left unused.

(d) The closure of Hoover may be detrimental to two population groups at Hoover.
(i) Harming autism classes. Special education costs associated with autism have been concentrated at Hoover for a while. Routine and regularity greatly help with such students. Moving a group of autistic students by closing a school is not ideal. This is, at most, a problem for a small number of students (13 or 14 if I recall) and that it would not be an on-going problem for new students.
(ii) The neighborhood that will be harmed the most by Hoover’s closure is the neighborhood south of Court St. and between 1st and 7th avenue. This is an economically mixed neighborhood, with some more affluent folks and some low-income folks. A large proportion of Hoover’s FRL population come from this area. You can determine that partly by housing prices, knowing a good number of people in the neighborhood, and most easily by looking at the FRL density maps that the district published a year ago. This entire area is, however, within about a mile of other schools. Still, it would likely be a hard walk for younger students and there is a greater risk of having transportation issues. That length of distance can be the no-person’s land in terms of district transportation for poorer folks. Too close to get a bus, but very likely to affect attendance under many circumstances.

Ultimately, those who want to keep Hoover open think that the equity argument may support keeping Hoover open.  

2. Response to Operational Costs Arguments

This argument is one of the more persuasive arguments for closing Hoover. The administration would go a lot further with that argument if they gave real data about how much it costs to run Hoover and how those costs would be saved by closing it. Instead of doing that, the district presents “average” costs for all of our elementary schools that doesn’t apply well to Hoover. Hoover has less costs than most of our elementary schools because some of its staff work less than full-time. For example, the counselor was only 0.6 time last year rather than the usual 1.0 time. It’s hard to quantify the operational savings, which there will be, given this lack. And it is hard to trust those numbers when the administration doubles-down saying the $650K figure is accurate with respect to Hoover when people point out this problem. But, if the accurate figure could add, say, 7 to 10 teachers to ICCSD (say, $500K), then that would be pretty compelling. There are two further points that Hoover defenders make with respect to this argument:

(a) The operational cost argument seems to suggest that many of our smaller schools should be closed. Hoover does relatively well in terms of operational efficiency, and there are many other schools where we would save more by closing them.

(b) Rather than closing schools, there are alternatives for cutting expenses that have not been sufficiently explored by the board or the administration. For instance, if Mann and Shimek were made sister schools with one campus serving K-2 and the other 3-6, then you would be able to have every class within the aspirational class size goals but have 3 fewer teachers (for the 2014-2015 school year) assigned to one of those two schools.  

3. Failure to address transition problems

(a) Hoover parents, even those who support closure, are concerned about the transition period. The administration is not doing an effective job of ensuring that teachers and staff at Hoover will have top consideration for openings available at Grant and New Hoover in 2019. This appears to be a departure, or at least the faculty and staff see it as a departure from Roosevelt’s closure a fews ago.

(b) The administration handles transitions with special needs children very poorly. It will likely do so again with Hoover, and Hoover has the highest special education costs in the district because of it has been an assigned school for some of the highest-need children in the district.

Tilley’s Two Cents on the two reasonable positions for candidates to take:

1. Maintain the FMP as is unless there are significant enrollment, budgetary, or other such changes that would address the reasons for its closure.

2. Commit to reexamining the FMP as it pertains to Hoover. If keeping Hoover open can be done without sacrificing the overall goals of having relatively well-balanced high schools and without forcing future increases in class sizes and/or programming cuts, then keeping Hoover open will be explored.

Under either scenario, if Hoover closes, prospective board members and the administration should work diligently to address the transition problems and to listen carefully as new transition challenges arise. They should also explore other financial options to come up with alternatives in the future so that more elementary schools need not be closed for financial reasons.